I’ve been thinking about pine needles rather a lot over the course of several weeks each time I walk the dog. The pace of daily human life sometimes seems at odds with examining things like pine needles closely. Or examining much of anything in more than a superﬁcial way. I have been contemplating what to do about the background to a diﬀerent pencil drawing of a pine cone. This drawing is a study for that drawing.
The park by the cove has a ﬁne selection of pine needles and pine cones sprinkled in triangular patterns over the ground. A mix of brown, gold and green, old and new in layers. But it is often harder than I expect to stop to get a really good look at them with a Samoyed pulling at the other end of the leash. The dog always seems to need to get his nose just a little closer to some amazing and tantalizing smell that is just slightly beyond where I want to be standing to look at the pine needles.
These discarded bits, the pine cones, twigs and pine needles, are also an important aspect of “the tree.” The tree is not just the trunk and branches. It is a whole system — above ground, below ground and on the ground.
You are more than just you, too, you know!
It helps to think in terms of whole systems when trying to ﬁgure out what you need to thrive.
The full quote for Ralph Waldo Emerson is:
Leave this military hurry and adopt the pace of Nature. Her secret is patience. Do you know how the naturalist learns all the secrets of the forest, of plants, of birds, of beasts, of reptiles, of ﬁshes, of the rivers and the sea? When he goes into the woods the birds ﬂy before him and he ﬁnds none; when he goes to the river-bank, the ﬁsh and the reptile swim away and leave him alone. His secret is patience; he sits down, and sits still; he is a statue; he is a log.
When is the last time that you were a log!? Right, I thought so.
Where do you need to bring patience back into your daily routine so that you are able to let the wildlife ﬁnd you?
By the way, I am thinking this might make a nice post card or greeting card. If you like this one too, let me know in the comments, and I’ll look into getting some printed up. Thanks.
Illustration by Catherine E. White. “Dreary, Flat, and Draining.” This small painting forms three distinct landscapes depicting diﬀerent aspects of a rather boring day that gradually became more interesting when I decided to take the time to explore and understand what was happening visually.
There you are, stuck in the middle of a day that is not going all that well. Important meetings were postponed, it’s raining, and friends are all out of town. Nothing exciting to do. The paperwork is mocking you, and none of the email is cheerful. You feel like you are plodding through the day and before your know it, you are BORED, Bored, bored! You are saying to yourself, “somebody do something quick before I stick this pencil in my eye!”
Before you click on the next cat video, consider the causes of how you got into this funk and weigh your options carefully for how to get out of it. Your long term goals may depend on how you respond. The cat video may cheer you up, but it will not really kick your to do list back in motion. And a string of six or seven consecutive cat videos is deﬁnitely not the answer.
There are three aspects to the day that have particular consequences that can begin a cycle of boredom that can easily derail what could otherwise be a major boost in your productivity.
Dreary - A dreary day aﬀects your mood. While a rainy day can be cozy, you are more likely to spend the day inside, under artiﬁcial lights. If ﬂorescent lights make you feel like you are turning blue, put on your best raincoat and go for a walk anyway. Take yourself beyond the arena of the boredom problem, on foot. A walk is good exercise and a healthy stress busting activity. In addition, simply being outside oﬀers a breath of fresh air. Where does some of the most creative artistic and scientiﬁc inspiration come from? Direct observation of Nature. So get out there, you may get soggy and chilled to the bone, but you won’t be bored.
Flat — If one moment is painfully dragging into the next, you are stuck in Flat. When water is ﬂat, typically there is very little wind. If your sailboat is trimmed incorrectly, it isn’t going anywhere. Time to stop what you are doing and regroup. You may need to abandon the plan, and make a new plan. (You can always come back to the current plan later, but right now, what you are doing isn’t working and you need to adjust.) Being in the Flat is sometimes a signal that you need to stop and really rest instead of trying to force yourself forward. However, more often than not, doing something to get moving is better than being stuck.
“It is what the sailor holding a tight course feels when the wind whips through her hair, when the boat lunges through the waves like a colt—sail, hull, wind and sea humming a harmony that vibrates in the sailor’s veins.”
To transition from Flat to Flow, you need to add a new texture to your situation. Reach for the next patch of wind rippling across the surface of the water. Rock the boat. Play.
Your goal for leaving behind the Flat is identifying and pursuing what ELSE you need to do to ﬁnd your way back to Flow.
Draining — Chances are your sour mood came to you as an oﬀshoot of someone else’s sour mood. Do not spread this to the next person. Do not amplify it in yourself by reviewing it repeatedly with heightened drama. Although it might ease your temporary state of boredom, imagining the slight more vividly only serves to etch a stronger memory and build resentments. Not helping! Breathe in the bright light, breathe out the dark smoke. Let it go.
Turn your attention away from the dismal scene. Do not follow the spiral down that drain.
Battle Boredom at its Source — We get bored when we feel like we’ve “been there and done that.” But, there is always more to learn about every subject. It is time to delve more deeply into the topic and discover some new angle or aspect to what you are doing. Let your senses, curiosity and creativity lead you away from boredom and into the delicate intricacies of life, where you will always ﬁnd a reason for fascination.
Remember also that you, are not …deﬁnitely not… boring. All the gazillions of atoms that give you substance came from the cauldrons of the interiors of burning stars.
Your own unique ﬁercely blazing spark will surely outshine the dreary!
You have permission to wrinkle the ﬂat into interesting shapes.
You have the power to become the cool spring of water that ﬁlls the well.
The gorey details of how the ﬂu makes you miserable.
I’ve participated in a carefully controlled research project this week, to ascertain from direct evidence what you can do while lying in bed with the ﬂu.
One can imagine getting all kinds of wonderful things accomplished, but it doesn’t actually work that way. You think you can catch up on various planning and strategizing. Perhaps work out a brilliant marketing campaign. But no.
10 things you can’t do:
brilliant marketing campaign
uh… Can’t think of the next one. Sniﬄe, sneeze… Blarg!
It even turns out that some tasks that look completely harmless will take a surprising turn when you have the ﬂu.
As an example, consider what happened to me on day three of the ﬂu. The fever had come down, and I was feeling more ambitious than the amoeba type creature I was the day before. I thought that while hubby was still asleep, I would take our dog, Baci, out to the backyard. It was a beautiful sunny day, unseasonably warm, seductively inviting me to stretch my face up to the sun in appreciation of the joys of life while the dog took care of his necessities. What could possibly go wrong?
Then I thought to pick up after the dog. Leaning over, bending at the middle towards feet… not such a good idea! I was lightheaded and the woozie factor seemed much more pronounced than expected. And then suddenly, Baci was on the move, aiming vigorously for his soccer ball. I realized at this point that I have made an error of judgement. My dog is a Samoyed, a sled dog breed. I am much more likely to pass out, and be dragged across the lawn. For a moment I fear that my good intentions will result in my groggy husband waking to ﬁnd me lying inert and the dog cheerfully wagging his tail with the leash wrapped around a telephone pole at the end of the driveway. Mercifully, Baci also seemed to recognize that something was amiss on the other end of the leash, and he eased up before gaining full steam! He escorted me politely back to the door and up the stairs.
It is essential that you also avoid the hazards of “day three.” Do not let your ambitious nature get the better of you. Stay in bed. You may want to install some kind of seat belt on “day three.”
Ah, even from here, I can hear you say, “But, but, but! I am a creative, productive professional. I am always busy. I have work to do! I can’t just lay about all day. I simply must do something!”
Dear hearts, I am here to remind you that you must get well before you can romp again with the dog and tackle that brilliant marketing plan. Nevertheless, for your sakes, I have compiled the deﬁnitive list of what can be accomplished safely while you have the ﬂu.
You can order concert tickets for when you are well and feeling like going out again. It helps to have something to live for.
You can catch up on watching all of Season 2 of Downton Abbey. Pay particular attention to episode eight, where Lavinia dies of The 1918 Spanish ﬂu, or possibly of a broken heart. Do not do that. See #1.
You can design a dandy tea cozy by email with your sister. Choosing yarn colors is exactly the right speed! Besides you are drinking lots of tea. It may as well be cozy, don’t you think?
You can compete with your cat on the Olympic Sleep Team. Your cat will still win, but do not give up. You can deﬁnitely give him a run for his money!
You can learn about microbiology. Stay with me on this one. By beginning with a curiosity about the darned ﬂu, you can travel to the CDC web site. Reading about how to wash your hands will leave you terribly unsatisﬁed. Follow all the links for how the ﬂu works, and how it spreads from ducks to pigs to humans until you unravel the mysteries of how Tamiﬂu disrupts the Neuraminidase proteins on the surface of the Flu as it tries to bond with the Sialic acid receptors on the respiritory cells in your nose and throat making it impossible (somehow) for the ﬂu to replicate itself. This is why they tell you to get to the doctor as quickly as possible. If the ﬂu has already replicated willy nilly in your system, you are doomed. See #2. You can also use the interactive ﬂu trend maps to verify that you are not alone. Then fall back onto your pillow, relieved to know that somebody is really thinking about the problem.
You can play Golden Globe Bingo. It will take two days, because you will fall asleep in the middle of the broadcast. However, through the wonders of streaming internet television, these days you need not miss Jodie Foster’s acceptance speech, which will probably be on You Tube somewhere. Besides, looking at sparkly dresses and tuxedos in your PJs will inspire you to comb your hair someday. At least we hope so.
You can say “Blarg” with conviction. This, I imagine, is what Pirates say when they have the ﬂu. “Blarg!” “Blarg! “BLARG!” It scares the pants oﬀ the ﬂu.
If you have not got an electronic ear thermometer, you can probably order one from Amazon. It will arrive in time for you to have lots of opportunities to press it into your ear gently, awaiting the beep that let’s you know that you still have a fever.
You can thank your gentle caregivers for supplying you with plenty of Jello, which you would never otherwise choose to eat. The fact that it includes a small squirt of whipped cream is particularly delightful for reasons that are not well understood. We suspect that there is a link from the CDC web site that would explain it on a cellular level.
“What I have…” Illustration by Catherine E. White, irridescent ink and collage, 7” x 9”
Loosely inspired by mandala and Venn diagrams, the large green circle represents the nature of the mind. To keep it from being bounded by the hard edge of the circle, I added growing leaves and gold dots which represent growth and expansiveness that is more celestial than terrestrial. The green was chosen to be organic and plant like. The “gold” circle is what we think we lack. It is smaller, less important. It overlaps the green circle because we probably already have most of what we need, if we are willing to look more carefully.
I have not been able to ﬁnd my purple handled scissors since we moved nine months ago. I was irritated by that because I have had those scissors a long time. In the old house I could have reached out and found them instantly.
Last week, I was setting up the new studio room in our new house. I had been avoiding going through my mom’s art supplies after she died. Her bins of well loved paint brushes seem to imply her hands. I miss her hands. Nevertheless I decided that it was time to stop procrastinating and to accept the inheritance not only of the raw materials — paper, pencils, hard crushed tubes of dried up paint and kneeded gum erasers — but also the skills she taught me. This was one of those bittersweet tasks that is simultaneously interesting, sad and cheerfully connected. Sad that my mom was not there to chat with me about it, but connected because I could not help but feel she was there urging me to pick up the legacy of creating magic along with her wizard’s wands.
The ﬁrst box that I opened contained about a dozen pairs of scissors. One pair I recognized from elementary school. One had a fabric strip knotted around the handle to indicate that they were to be used for sewing and cloth, not paper. My mom’s scissors were in the box. My grandmother’s scissors were in the box, and probably my great grandmother’s too! A whole family tradition ready and willing to come back into service.
It is a trap to focus too narrowly on what is missing… the purple scissors, the person, the money, the opportunity, the time. It is easy to miss seeing what is already there. Plenty of other scissors, happy memories, your own hands, a new way of living that requires less money, a diﬀerent opportunity requiring a new business model, other choices for how to spend your time, the people who are still with you and the friends you have yet to meet.
This is true of your own strengths and skills too. It is easy to say, “I have no talent” for art, music, sports, marketing, business or some other poignant place where interests intersect with regret, stagnation, inconsistency or lack of expected results. But take heart, you haven’t really explored the full extent of what you can do, yet.
It is important to never forget that you have a lot going for you as a human being. Your latent skills can be developed. Your strengths can be relied upon and used every day. Your interests and reasons for doing what you do can be deepened and widened and enriched by patient practice.
Answers to various puzzles are there to be found, but they are like the scissors hiding in the box you are avoiding. The avoidance, the procrastination itself, is often a signal that there might be something worthwhile there that could lead you in a new promising direction. The surprising delight is to indulge your curiosity in opposition to your fear — to bravely look inside the box — and discover that what you have is more than anything you lack, because what you are is alive, unlimited and always in the process of learning and growing.
A quick glance around a lecture hall in Schermerhorn or Mudd, on the other hand, will give you an idea of how easily the act of taking notes on a laptop turns into the ﬁne art of multitasking. I took an informal and terribly ﬂawed survey of the number of laptop users in my psychology lectures, estimating that more than three-quarters had multiple windows open and switched between them multiple times per minute.
Caitlin Brown is a psychology student at Columbia University. In a recent article she wrote for the Columbia Spectator, she oﬀers some excellent anecdotal observations about how divided attention aﬀects student skills in lecture halls. What she noticed is that some of the students using laptops are switching between windows several times a minute. To me, that behavior seems to be less about procrastination than about how diﬃcult it is to focus both on listening and note taking as information comes pouring in.
In other words, from Caitlin’s despription, these students are failing to solve a multi-tasking problem and choosing instead to multi-task more! The problem is that you can’t easily write and listen at the same time. It is a very diﬀerent skill from taking notes while you are reading. The words ﬂowing into your ear are in conﬂict with the words ﬂowing onto the page. So, how do you turn a multi-tasking headache into a sequential task that you can do?
Let’s assume that the speaker or the topic is engaging enough that most other distractions can be temporarily dismissed, and that you are willing to set distractions aside to get the most out of the talk. You aren’t just ﬁlling the chair and the hour before lunch. You are not just bored. You want to take notes, but are understandably having trouble doing the two things at once.
I am an avid note taker. I don’t attend as many lectures as students do. Mostly I take notes in meetings, conferences and during work sessions. My notes are almost always shared with a team. I know that other people will be relying on them. There is rarely any question for me about zoning out to ﬂip through Facebook.
For me, note taking has become a bit of a sport. The challenge is something like baseball. You write while the pitcher is kicking his feet on the mound, and staring down the batter, not while the ball is in play and everyone is dashing around the bases. In other words, write most intensely during the pauses and lulls. Listen most intensely while new topics and ideas are presented. If a speaker is on a roll, that can mean that you are also listening for cadence and breaths, rather than a full pause.
I ﬁnd the act of transferring what I’m hearing into words on the page helpful to my understanding the material. I often take my notes with pen and paper, but I also take notes on my Macbook Air. I just open Pages or an email message and type into it. The iPad works too for me. On the iPad, I use the built in Notepad app. I also use Notability when I want to add drawings to my notes. I have tried a few others note taking apps, but these are the ones I lean on.
Here are my tips for taking notes for yourself and for others.
Keep it simple. If you are using a computer have just one window in view. Mountain Lion for Macintosh has a full screen mode that easily takes care of that.
Silence is courteous. Turn oﬀ beeps and buzzes.
Turn oﬀ WiFi if you do not want to be interrupted. The Internet will still be there when you get out of your meeting.
Tag your note with the date, occassion, and attendees.
Distill themes and ideas by paraphrasing in your own words. This tests your understanding.
To jog your memory later, occassionally add in the ﬂavor of the dialogue with key phrases transcribed verbatim. Colorful phrases bring your notes to life again and you will remember more of what was said, and the tone in which it was said.
Tag to do items and actions for follow up. If you have an assignment, consider drawing a star or an arrow next to it to make it stand out.
If multiple people are conversing, jot down who had particular concerns, ideas, solutions, or suggestions. If you are also a participant in a meeting, and have something to say, say it, and then make a quick note of your topic. You can ﬁll in your own details later, and you won’t miss out on the next round of conversation.
Gather references to explore after the session. If there are handouts, use them to avoid having to copy down long URLs, but not as a substitute for taking notes about what was really said. If the presenter is good, and has a lot to say, they will not be glued to the presentation slides. Most of the talk may not be on the slides at all. (Consider the presentation style of Steve Jobs. If you relied on the hand-out of his slides, you would miss out on most of the content!)
Conversation among humans is sometimes circular. After the meeting is done, consider reorganizing your notes to be less chronological. Consider reordering by topic to clarify the outcome of the meeting.
Once you get into the rhythm of taking notes, the oscillation between listening and writing will ﬂow more easily for you. You will get good at it. People will ask you for your notes. Your notes will become a valuable reminder of your experience for yourself and others who work with you.
Do you ﬁnd that your attention is more likely to wander when there is not much participation asked of you? Do you have a favorite note taking app on the iPad? What do you like most about it?